New ministerial luxury cars hurt MDC image more than ZANU-PF's

Jun 23, 2011

One of the many problems for the MDC party in joining ZANU-PF to form a coalition government is how they can continue to be seen as the alternative and the future while now being part of the system. It is a fine, very difficult line for them to walk.

Civil servants are currently on strike over their salaries of less than US $500 a month. Their demands are quite modest given the high cost of living in Zimbabwe.

The ever-populist-when-it-suits-him president Mugabe, ZANU-PF, says civil servants should get a pay raise this month based on improvement in minerals revenue including from diamonds. The embattled minister of finance Tendai Biti, MDC, says there is just a trickle of revenue against billions of dollars in outstanding debt and mounting new expenditure needs, therefore there simply isn't the money available for a civil service pay raise.

Then comes news that the same government that pleads poverty and says it can't afford expenditure on many basics has just bought 140 luxury vehicles for its top members, ZANU-PF and MDC officials alike.
In the national scheme of things $10 million is not a lot of money, but the broad symbolism and the details of the purchase reflect very poorly on the ruling officials, regardless of what party they represent in government. 

According to the Herald, "Minister Biti and his colleagues in Government, recently approved the purchase of 40, 2110 Limited Edition Jeep Grand Cherokees for Cabinet ministers, 40 Land Cruisers V8 SUVs for deputy ministers and 50 (Toyota) Prados for Permanent Secretaries."

SUV and 4X4 purchases are justified on the basis of Zimbabwe's deteriorating roads and the frequent need for official travel to rough rural terrain. But how is the choice of petrol-guzzling V8 engines justified?   

The Herald says  "the Grand Cherokees were bought at an average price of US$120 000 while the V8 Land cruisers saw Government forking out US$90 000 for each vehicle."

Just on the basis of the engine choices and prices mentioned, it is clearly the premium versions of these vehicles that were chosen. It is to emphasize luxury at a time that the beneficiaries are preaching austerity for everyone else, and the rest of the citizens are experiencing it!

"What is interesting is that the vehicles were bought at a time when some government officials are vehemently refusing even a 10 percent salary increase for civil servants," the Herald reported.

The "some government officials" reference to Biti is the usual cheap Herald attempt to separate MDC officials from those from ZANU-PF in demonisation. But in this case all the benefiting officials including Biti and the rest of the MDC fatcats look very bad in regards to the powerfully negative symbolism of buying and being driven in expensive luxury cars when civil servants are pleading to be paid improved salaries that would still be a pittance in expensive Zimbabwe.

In a different report Biti claimed the purchases were done by another government depart rather than by his ministry. This may well be true, but this is a detail and technicality that is likely to be lost in the overall outrage at the symbolism of profligacy for the already privileged at a time of austerity for everyone else.

Speaking of symbolisms, it is interesting that the choice of ministerial luxury car is an American SUV at a time the Mugabe government has claimed that US sanctions are to blame for many of the problems Zimbabwe is experiencing, and that the US wants to topple Mugabe. The strange 'retaliation' by the Mugabe government is an order for American cars!   

This latest purchase splurge hurts the MDC more than it does ZANU-PF. The latter have been in power for 31 years and are largely deaf and blind to popular outrage over things like this. They know that it will largely die down in a few weeks, and that their popularity is so low anyway that it is not going to get significantly worse over something like this. The public is so accustomed to this kind of behaviour from ZANU-PF that few are surprised even if they are annoyed by it.

The MDC ministers, on the other hand, have a different problem. They must straddle enjoying the perks  and privileges for which power is mainly sought in Africa, but try to do so without getting tarred with the brush of being as arrogant, hypocritical and out of touch as their ZANU-PF counterparts. It becomes increasingly difficult for them to portray themselves as the party that will do things very differently if they were to win power.

Every time the ministers are seen enjoying their new luxury toys, it will be a reminder to struggling Zimbabweans that by joining the coalition government, the MDC leaders have become increasingly compromised.


Anonymous said...

is it mBiti or Biti? I wonder whether we have ran out of gurus in economics or finance. This boy cant even distinguish btn excise duty and exercise what!!!!!!!!!!!

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